July 30, 2008
While in Asia, I heard a great expression, “Before You Can Multiply, You Must First Learn to Divide.” I now find myself using this saying nearly every day.
The idea is that if you want to grow your business, you must learn to partner with others – and give them a slice. This means you take a smaller slice of a bigger pie.
I have been doing this for a while now with my agent. He takes a percentage of my business in exchange for handling everything from negotiating, contracting, logistics, travel, invoicing, etc. I am convinced I make more money through this arrangement…and work less.
I recently had a conversation with a guy who runs a seminar business. When big name American speakers come to his country, he hosts a public seminar. His biggest challenge is getting butts in seats. When I looked at his business model, it was flawed. He has a lot of fixed costs, like advertising, printing (brochures) and postage. His customer acquisition cost is ridiculously high, and was often hit or miss. He could spend $5,000 on a newspaper advertisement and get only three customers paying $300 each. Even with 50 paying customers, he is still paying a 33% customer acquisition cost – assuming no discounts. My suggestion was to create a model where others make money only when he makes money. One example is to set up an affiliate program where he gives a large commission to people who get him paying customers. This moves his costs from fixed to variable. This removes his risk while encouraging others to take a vested interest in his success.
Yesterday I was at a board meeting for my local National Speakers Association chapter (I was the President last year and am still on the board). Over the last two years we spent a lot of time and money on something we call the “Visibility Initiative.” The idea was to get visibility for our members in order to help them get more gigs. We spent thousands on website development and marketing. If we use the “divide before multiply” concept, it would make more sense to get someone to do all of these activities for us. Speakers bureaus sell speakers to event planners. They already have the connections and already have websites. This is their business. Therefore, if we partner with a bureau (or two), they get their commission for every gig booked and we get greater results with less effort.
When I was on the Donny Deutsch show, a caller asked, “I am the owner of a business. How do I retain my top talent?” Donny asked what percentage of the business he owned. The caller said 100%. Donny’s response was (paraphrasing), “Wrong. As of today you own 80%. Go into the office of your top 10 people and tell them that they are now partners in the business. Give them 2% each. They will have a greater sense of ownership. Besides, this is probably the amount you would have given them as a bonus anyway.”
Where can you multiply by first dividing? Where can you give a slice of your business to someone else? How can you grow your business while creating more income for others?
July 25, 2008
Last night I was on “The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch” on CNBC. I was there to discuss how to save your job during a down economy. I had a number of tips prepared, but due to limited time, I was only able to give 2.
Here are my 7 “big ideas” for saving your job or creating a new job.
1. BE LAZY – Most people spend 60% – 75% of their time work on activities that do NOT create value for the business. Don’t! Be lazy and stop doing what you don’t need to do. Rethink all of your work and focus on the important activities. You’ll make yourself more valuable to the company and you will work less.
2. SEEK OUT OVERSEAS OPPORTUNITIES – Given the weak dollar, US products and services are bargains in other countries. Volunteer for an ex-pat job. Take on a sales job overseas. I will be spending more time overseas this year than I had over the previous 6 years combined.
3. ACT LIKE AN OWNER OF THE BUSINESS – If you think like the CEO rather than (fill in your job here), you will think more strategically. You will make smarter business decisions. Instead of just focusing on “what” you do, ask yourself “why” are you doing it. This will certainly impress your boss.
4. USE PERSONAL CONTACT RATHER THAN EMAIL – Deciding who to layoff is often more emotional than logical. Therefore, it is critical that you maintain a personal relationship with fellow employees and bosses. Email is impersonal. To help you break the habit, take my 30 day challenge.
5. PLAN FOR YOUR PINK SLIP – Assume that you will eventually lose your job or choose to leave. Therefore, be sure to build your resume, build your brand, and build your network of contacts outside of the company. Your career is your responsibility.
6. SOLVE PAINS – During tight economic times, people are more willing to invest in products/services that eliminate pains. Problem solvers are in big demand…always. My speeches on recession proofing businesses are more popular than those focused on innovation.
7. CHARGE MORE – Oscar Wilde once said, “A cynic knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.” People equate value with price. Charge more and you will be valued more. Reducing prices makes you a commodity. Increasing prices makes you a luxury. Luxury items tend to do better in tough economic times.
P.S. If you want to see the complete list of 10 tips I had prepared for the show, go to the CNBC website. They also republished my article on “6 Ways Innovation Can Recession-Proof Your Business.” You can also check out the complete list of guests from the show.
July 11, 2008
I am here in Bangkok and loving it. The people are so nice. The food is great. And the massages (legit ones!) are cheap.
I check email once, maybe twice a day. And I only respond to the urgent ones (like requests from TV stations and magazines here in Bangkok who want to interview me). I’m getting more work done in less time, because I can stay focused on the task at hand, rather than reading and responding to emails every 5 seconds.
I bought a cheap mobile phone and have both Malaysian and Thai phone numbers so that I can make local calls. But I don’t even carry the phone with me when I am out. It is for emergencies primarily.
This is freedom.
July 8, 2008
How are you doing with the 30 day challenge? For me, the first few days were tough. What made it even more difficult was that my hotel does not have internet access in the rooms. So whenever I want to access email, I need to go to the hotel lobby.
I’m on day 4, and as predicted, I am no longer stressed about checking my email. I set up an autoresponder that gives people my agent’s contact information if they need a response that is time sensitive.
I’m off to Bangkok in a few hours…
July 5, 2008
While here Malaysia, my BlackBerry was stolen. It reminded me of something I wrote in my book Goal-Free Living:
Every day we are presented with numerous opportunities, but they often pass us by without our even noticing. In order to find these hidden opportunities, you must be sensitive to the environment around you. Sometimes this means disconnecting to stay connected.
Technology can be a wonderful boon to humankind, but sometimes we abuse it in ways that prevent us from really participating in life. For example, I have a BlackBerry phone. My original thinking was that this would free me from my computer and allow me to stay connected. Yes, it does allow me to stay connected electronically, but it also makes me disconnected from what I should really be doing—being present.
I once was having lunch with a colleague. Although my BlackBerry was sitting on the table with the ringer off, based on the color of a flashing LED I could tell if I had any new e-mails. I was waiting for an important message, so I was constantly glancing at the flashing light to see if it turned red. I received an e-mail every few minutes from someone—either a real person or spam. I did not receive the e-mail I was so eager to get until hours later. In the meantime I was completely detached from the person I was having lunch with, missing an opportunity to really be connected. This is how staying connected can interfere with being connected.
I wrote that in 2005. Unfortunately, my CrackBerry addiction has actually worsened since then.
Now I am being put to the ultimate test. My BlackBerry is missing and there no cost effective way for me to replace it until I return to the states in 3 weeks. I was able to buy an inexpensive “regular” phone with a local Malaysian number. But my US mobile number will remain in suspended animation until I return. No one will be able to send me text messages or leave me voicemails. I will only be able to check email from my computer. No more checking email every 30 seconds like I did with the BlackBerry.
I feel my withdrawal symptoms kicking in already. It takes 30 days to break a habit. Maybe this is my chance to break my CrackBerry addiction. Maybe this is a chance for me to “stay connected by disconnecting.”
June 1, 2008
I realize that book publishing does not directly relate to innovation. But I have had so many conversations with people about this in recent weeks that I decided to write an article about it.
This article is nearly 3000 words in length. As you will see, if I double (or triple) the length, this article could become a book.
It seems as though everyone wants to write a book. Well, actually everyone wants to publish a book. Few people want to write one. Unfortunately, most people don’t know where to start and therefore become undermotivated or overwhelmed. The result? Good intentions; no book.
But what if you could have a bookstore quality paperback in your hands in two weeks? And what if you didn’t have to do much writing?
Here’s a technique you can use to publish a non-fiction book in a fortnight. I recently wrote a book in a few days and had a published version in one week.
To do this, you must use a print-on-demand self-publisher and not a traditional publisher.
Business books work best with the method. Fiction requires an entirely different approach.
Before you get started, there is one question you must answer…
February 15, 2008
My previous entry focused on innovation as a way of helping you stand out in a crowd. I also discussed how wearing a bathrobe at a black tie event can have the same effect.
In my Goal-Free Living book, I interviewed a successful entrepreneur (and now a good friend), Mikki Williams. Mikki is the master at standing out in a crowd. But it is not a tactic; it just comes naturally. Here is a brief excerpt from the book.
I met Mikki Williams in her apartment high above Lake Michigan in Chicago. The first thing I noticed upon walking into her place was that she collected lips. Lots of lips. This is a hobby she started more than 20 years ago, which has permeated her home and work, including a five-foot lip couch (see photo) and assorted other lip accessories—from toilet seats to artwork.
The next thing I noticed when walking into Mikki’s place was Mikki. She had big hair. Really big hair. Mikki is someone who lives by the motto, Carpe diem! She joked, “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. My ultimate goal will be realized when the check to the undertaker—bounces!”
“I like to say, ‘Be outrageous, it’s the only place that’s not crowded.’ That’s the way I live my life. I dress outrageously and have crazy hair. But it’s not that I try to be this way. This is who I am. I am just being me.”
Eventually, Mikki took her life experiences onto the public speaking circuit. But Mikki was not your typical speaker. She looked like Bette Midler and definitely stood out in a crowd. One day she received a call from a Wall Street Journal reporter who was doing an article on the speaking industry during the recession.
“Why me?” she asked the journalist. “Because you stand out. You look different.”
When the article was published, Mikki’s face was featured on the front page! This launched her speaking career.
Too often, we try to fit in with the crowd. We play it safe. But innovation is about taking risks while being true to you. This takes confidence. And it takes the belief that your “style” is what the world needs and wants. Yes, taking this risk may help you stand out. More importantly, it may be the ticket to your success.
February 12, 2008
Innovation can help your organization improve its products, processes, or business model. But maybe, innovation’s greatest strength is helping you stand out from the crowd.
Let me give you a personal example where I learned this by accident.
A few years back, when I lived in London, I was a member of a hip and trendy club. Basically it was a gorgeous four story house with comfy sofas where members gathered for food, drinks, and social events. Their annual Academy Awards parties were so popular, they were by invitation only. One year I was fortunate enough to receive mine in the mail.
The invitation read: “DJ or PJs.” In England, a DJ is a dinner jacket/tuxedo. PJs are obviously pajamas. With the 8 hour time zone difference between London and Los Angeles, the event went from 11PM until 6AM. Given how late the event started, I assumed everyone would opt for comfy PJs rather than stuffy DJs. That day I purchased a relatively inexpensive – and loud – yellow silk bath robe, blue pajamas, an ascot, and slippers. You can see the finished product in the photo left.
I arrived at the event around midnight – fashionably late. The crowd had already gathered. The two bouncers at the door verified I was on the guest list and let me in. Both were wearing tuxedos. I walked in and immediately saw a buddy of mine who worked at the club. He too was wearing a tux. I took a quick glance around. Everyone was in black tie. I asked him, “Um, is anyone else here wearing pajamas?” Without saying a word, he simply shook his head. I could tell he pitied me.
My instinct told me to leave. It was a very awkward and uncomfortable situation. But instead of running, I grabbed a glass of champagne and strutted in like I owned the place. All heads turned and looked at me. I thought I heard a gasp or two from the crowd. Then immediately, people walked up to me to introduce themselves. The guys whispered something to the effect of, “I wanted to wear pajamas, but I just didn’t have the cojones.” By the end of the night, I knew everyone. Everyone wanted to have their picture taken with me. Even the local “movie stars” in the room weren’t as popular.
Innovate to Stand Out
Afterwards I reflected on this experience and how it could be applied to business innovation. What I realized is that at a black tie affair, a tuxedo – no matter how pricy or fancy it is – will always stand out less than an inexpensive bathrobe.
For many, innovation is about designing a better tuxedo. “Hey, we’re in the 8 track tape market. Let’s create 8 track HD.” Or, “Windows XP has been out for a few years, I guess it must time for a newer, more powerful operating system.”
One problem is, as Clayton Christensen described in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma, companies innovate faster than customers lives change. As a result, products become over priced and overly complex (Office 2007 is a perfect example).
The winners are those who create something low cost and simple, yet different.
Be forewarned, being different may feel uncomfortable. Just as I wanted to leave a seemingly embarrassing situation, businesses want to kill all ideas that don’t fit the “mold.” Instead, play with these ideas. Don’t dismiss them too quickly. Have the courage to explore them – even if it takes a bit of champagne to get up the nerve.
I am not suggesting that you be different for the sake of being different. That only creates a short lived fad. But if you are not #1 in your industry, your innovations should set you apart from the competition. Trying to emulate the company you are chasing will only exhaust your resources.
To stimulate some creative thinking, ask, “How can we create something…
- that leverages our core strengths?
- that solves a pervasive customer pain?
- of lower cost and lower complexity than the competition?
- that sets us apart from the crowd?
Remember, sometimes the best innovations are those that are simple, low cost – and fundamentally different. Instead of better tuxedos, maybe people just want bathrobes.
P.S. Although it has been several years since that event, I still wear the same bathrobe almost daily. Not only was the bathrobe less expensive than a tuxedo, it proved to be much more practical.
February 6, 2008
The other day I was having lunch with Mike Bell, the man who hired me for an engineering co-op job during university – an opportunity that changed my life. He has also changed the lives of over 250,000 students who have been educated with his math instruction methods.
During our time together, he gave me his definition of passion. He said:
“When I see the word ‘passion,’ I actually see three words. In the middle is ‘I’ and on either side are “pass” and “on.” To me, passion is when ‘I pass on’ something I love to others. It’s when I make a contribution to the world.”
Works for me.
January 14, 2008
In yesterday’s Boston Sunday Globe, I was quoted in an article entitled “Turning a Passion into a Profession.” The piece shares the story of people who left their regular jobs in pursuit of their passion. Here was my contribution to the article:
And his approach to realizing his dream was well-conceived because he was not only doing something that created value for himself, but for others as well, said Steve Shapiro, a motivational career speaker from Quincy.
“If you’re serious about pursuing your passion, you have to do your homework and put yourself through training and only make the leap when you’re ready,” he said. “And once you are, you can’t just dip your toe, you have to jump in with both feet.”
Shapiro said it’s important not to get restricted or intimidated by the reality checks that will be thrown at your dreams, but to understand that there will be sacrifices along the way.
The author of the article, Kate M. Jackson, also asked me to write 5 tips for a side-bar. They were not published, so I am including them here. [Read more]